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The era of the metaverse is upon us. It’s hard to think of another technological concept that has caused such a buzz since the days of dot com. Tech firms, game studios, luxury apparel brands, artists and influencers — everyone’s intrigued by the unrealized potential that those virtual worlds hold. Meta is putting all its eggs in the metaverse basket, investing $10 billion to develop its VR social network, with other big tech firms like Microsoft, Nvidia and Shopify all putting a stake in the metaverse.
Luxury brands are also blazing a trail. Following on from several high-profile partnerships over the last year, the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week will take place at the end of March in Decentraland, featuring dozens of global brands, virtual shows and afterparties.
There has also been recent explosion in the popularity of NFTs, the token type that makes up the assets of the decentralized metaverse. Investment bank Jefferies recently predicted that the NFT market would reach $80 billion by 2025 and $35 billion this year alone.
Just the beginning
It’s worth remembering that we’re only at the beginning of this journey, and the current metaverse user experience isn’t even close to being as optimized as it will become over the coming years. Buying a VR helmet is still a barrier to entry for many people, while the need to navigate various exchanges, blockchain platforms, wallets, and fiat-on and off-ramps still prevail across much of the decentralized space.
But that’s not to say things aren’t already changing, as they always have done with any technology cycle. Renowned investor Marc Andreessen’s most famous quote is that “software is eating the world,” which he said back in 2011. He recognized the transformative potential that software was unleashing. Within a decade of his statement, companies were spending $600 billion each year on enterprise software, an increase of 123%.
These days, nobody buys licenses or installs programs on their machines anymore. Companies don’t even own or operate their hardware anymore — everything from infrastructural hardware to document storage to software — is provided “as a service.”
Metaverse-as-a-service is the inevitable next step. Currently, brands are utilizing established metaverses like Decentraland or Roblox because that’s what’s available, it’s where users currently are, and it provides an infrastructure for them to test initial ideas about how to leverage the metaverse for branding and marketing purposes.
Besides, beyond big tech firms, who wants to build their own metaverse? Decentraland has been in development for seven years, and it’s not unfair to say that it’s only in the last twelve months that the project has begun to achieve meaningful mainstream success. A luxury brand or an influencer doesn’t want that headache. They just want to find ways to reach the audiences that like to hang out in the metaverse and want to buy digital gear.
More metaverses, more opportunities
It’s already evident that the relatively small handful of metaverses in operation now won’t be able to sustain all the use cases of metaverse for a global user base. There are questions of blockchain scalability, of course, but also of user experience and brand return on investment. The busier one metaverse gets, the more difficult it becomes for any one brand or use case to stand out or for a user to find what they’re looking for.
Furthermore, a “one size fits all” invariably ends up pleasing nobody. For example, what parents would allow their kids to hang out in a metaverse full of age-inappropriate content? But on the flip-side, there are plenty of legitimate adult businesses that may be excluded by imposing rules that make a metaverse suitable for children.
Therefore, metaverse-as-a-service will invariably begin to become the dominant business model as brands and industries recognize the value of having dedicated spaces.
As such, a luxury brand metaverse featuring logos, catwalks, and virtual storefronts is invariably going to be a very different place from the relative calm of a wellness metaverse, where people go to consult a virtual physician or engage in group meditations and learn yoga.
The concept can be niched down as much as desired. Food metaverse – a virtual eatery where you browse takeout hotspots and order for home delivery – could have various iterations focused on specific meals or dietary options. School metaverses can focus on different subjects, skills, age groups, or languages.
A familiar path: Metaverse-as-a-service
Metaverse–as-a-service will allow this level of configuration without anyone needing to learn any code so that brands and sectors can tailor their features and functionality to their audiences. It would be easy enough to put in gatekeeping for age-appropriate content or even create exclusive metaverses like VIP members clubs, only open to the select few.
Looking ahead, it’s easy enough to see that the path of the metaverse will follow the same trajectory as software. Once metaverse-as-a-service becomes the norm, that’s when metaverses will truly be eating the world.
Ray Lu is the CEO and founder of Bit.Country and Metaverse.Network.
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